We should all be aware that Fire Risk Assessments are legally required but did you know that there are different types of risk assessment that can be carried in blocks of flats?
The current guidance endorsed by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) ‘Fire Safety in Purpose Built Blocks of Flats’, issued by the Local Government Association in 2012, identifies 4 types of Fire Risk Assessments; some of which are destructive.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) states that a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) is required in almost all buildings, however, does not go into specific detail about how intrusive or destructive this should be.
This blog aims to identify the 4 different types of Fire Risk Assessments, and explain whether destructive risk assessments are required:
Type 1 Fire Risk Assessments
Firstly, Type 1 is the most common type of Fire Risk Assessment and is usually sufficient for most purpose-built blocks of flats and conversions. Type 1 is a non-destructive assessment of the common parts of the building, not the private dwellings. In general, access to these occupied areas (such as flats) is not expected or required unless there is there is reason to believe that there may be significant health and safety issues inside. The only exception is where you may have arranged to view the tenant’s front doors as part of the assessment. In some occurrences, the action plan of the Type 1 may recommend one of the other types be carried out. Recommendations of other types of FRAs should be backed up with a clear justification as to why a more intrusive inspection is required.
Type 2 Fire Risk Assessments
Type 2 is similar to type 1 in the sense that it only includes the common parts of the building. However, it involves an element of destructive sampling for which a contractor will normally be required. A Type 2 FRA may be suggested following a Type 1, however, should not be recommended as standard procedure. A Type 2 Fire Risk Assessment is usually a rarity, carried out only if there is good reason to believe there are serious structural flaws that need further investigation due to the risk that this could lead to breaches in compartmentation and the spread of fire throughout the building.
Type 3 Fire Risk Assessments
Type 3 FRAs go beyond the requirements of the law by considering the flats as well as the common parts. Areas such as means of escape, compartmentation between flats and means of fire detection are considered in all areas including the flats. The Type 3 FRA, like the type 1, is non-destructive and is usually considered necessary if it is thought there may be a fire risk inside of the flats. Arranging a Type 3 FRA can be difficult in leaseholder flats and are more easily conducted in vacated flats or where the flat is rented rather under leasehold ownership.
Type 4 Fire Risk Assessments
Type 4 FRAs, like Type 2, include a destructive assessment, however in this case of both the common parts of the building, and the flats. Type 4 FRAs are obviously more complicated than the other types of assessments. As with the Type 3 assessment, access to flats can be difficult and the destructive nature of the assessment will involve a contractor to open up and repair damage after the inspection.
Are Type 2 or 4 Fire Risk Assessments Needed?
You have probably had a Type 1 FRA conducted and in the vast majority of cases this is likely to be suitable and sufficient in determining the fire risk and implementing the necessary fire precautions. There is, however, ongoing debate surrounding Type 4 FRAs and where they may be necessary.
Generally, Type 4 FRAs are only necessary in very limited range of circumstances and like the Type 2, should not be routinely recommended unless there is strong justification following a Type 1 or 3 FRA. The general principle is that a Type 4 FRA should only be suggested if there is reason to believe there are serious defects in both the common parts or inside the flats; such as: inadequate compartmentation or poor fire stopping which cannot be determined adequately during the Type 1 or 3 FRA. Another circumstance in which a Type 4 Fire Risk Assessment may be recommended is if a new landlord has acquired a block of flats for which the history of construction work is suspicious.
Concerns may be originally raised in the type 1 FRA about the compartmentation, especially in areas that cannot be easily accessed such as: ceilings, under floor boards, roof voids, risers, service cupboards or boiler rooms. In circumstances such as these, there may be reason to believe there is high risk of fire spread in both the private and common areas of the property and therefore a more destructive assessment may be needed.
The outcome of an intrusive and destructive FRA may be to recommend further building works to improve compartmentation, additional fire stopping measures or improvements to protect the means of escape from smoke or fire. In some circumstances additional building works to improve fire compartmentation will not be practicable either in the short or long term. In these cases, the evacuation strategy may need to change from the usual ‘stay put’ policy recommended for purpose-built blocks, to one of simultaneous evacuation with enhanced fire detection and alarm systems being installed.
Overall, there is a lot to consider when deliberating over FRAs. Landlords will need to weigh up the cost vs. benefits of conducting a destructive FRA. If your building was constructed prior to 2000 then there may be asbestos in the building which will need careful consideration before any destructive works are carried out. Landlords will need to compare the disruption to residents and the time it will take to return the block to its original condition with the overall benefits this may have in relation to enhancing fire safety.